The Mars rover Curiosity is already expecting a robotic pal in 2020--but could humans make it there first? A new mysterious nonprofit organization called the Inspiration Mars Foundation is holding a press conference next week to announce a round trip to the Red Planet. The "Mission For America" would launch in January 2018, and go to Mars and back in 501 days.
"It is intended to encourage all Americans to believe again, in doing the hard things that make our nation great, while inspiring youth through science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and motivation," the announcement reads. "The Inspiration Mars Foundation is committed to accelerating America's human exploration of space as a critical catalyst for future growth, national prosperity, new knowledge and global leadership."
It's funded by millionaire and space tourism pioneer Dennis Tito, who became the first private tourist in space back in 2001. Tito worked on Mars missions for NASA during the 1960s. Full details will be announced at a press conference Feb. 27 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The mission would launch in 2018 to take advantage of a convenient alignment between Earth and Mars, which happens roughly every two years plus two months. The next one is in November of this year, followed by early 2016. During these events, the planets' orbital alignments are situated so an Earth-departing spacecraft would require less energy to make the 350-million-mile-plus journey. The Mars rover Curiosity, for instance, took 253 days from Nov. 26, 2011 to Aug. 6, 2012 to cover 352 million miles.
Over at NBC's Cosmic Log, Alan Boyle (no relation) digs up some information from a forthcoming presentation by Tito at the IEEE Aerospace Conference next month. Apparently the plan is for two astronauts to ride in a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule, swinging past Mars and coming right back by using the planets' alignment for a free trajectory home. So no landing appears in the cards.
This isn't really surprising, because staying in Mars orbit--or just flying by--would be far simpler, safer and cheaper than dropping cargo. Delivering the car-sized Curiosity rover onto the surface was an enormous technological feat, but doesn't even approach the challenge of safely delivering (and retrieving!) human visitors.
The trip there and back is actually pretty feasible, however. European Space Agency and Russian Roscosmos agency already tested what it would be like to live in closed quarters for that long--albeit with Earth's gravity, so it wasn't a totally realistic simulation. But the Mars500 experiment showed it's possible to live in tight quarters with only a few people for nearly a year and a half.
Still, major as-yet-unaddressed challenges would be protecting the astronauts from solar and cosmic radiation, and building a rocket and spaceship that could get them safely there and back.
We expect several more details at the announcement next week--stay tuned.
They need to land if they want to inspire anyone.
Americans walked on the moon and even that didn't get us a moon base, so what is flying around Mars supposed to inspire?
Sight seeing tours maybe?
I agree that it will be somewhat meaningless in my eyes if a person doesn't land there. Might as well shoot a probe there and back if you're not going to land there. Oh, wait, we've done that already.
i think there will finaly be some hard scientific data about human deep space flight... so yall who wants some crazy bling bling stuff right away just shut the ____ up
No facts, No response...
This is huge and doable, where do I sign up? People forget that Apollo 10 orbited the moon and came back safely before we landed there with Apollo 11. This first step will give them huge advantages and confidence they can do more riskier future trips. We haven't been more than 250 miles above the earth surface since Apollo 17 over 40 years ago, so this planned trip would stop NASA from making anymore excuses not to go....
The Apollo 8 mission just cirled the moon. That's the first time we sent humans away from earth into the void of space to travel to a cosmic destination. Only afterward did Apollo 11 land on the moon, but they didn't make the journey first.
A fly by is a better option. Spend a little extra money you can send a manned crew to deploy satellites around Mars at a lower cost than a fully automated system requiring remote control from Earth. Then maybe we could have a GPS constellation for whenever we start landing people and other supplies there.
"Sometimes you have to crawl before you walk."
Yeah, that was Apollo 8 that first circled the moon prior to Apollo 11 landing men on the moon.
The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) could get to Mars in 39 days according to an article I read. I guess the technology isn't ready yet, but 501 days is ridiculous. I'm assuming they would be using chemical rockets for it to take 501 days.
It took a hand full of moon fly-bys to make Apollo 11 happen. There will be Mars Fly-bys no doubt. When the stakes are this high, incremental development is the best approach.
Also worth noting humans exploration are more of a monumental undertaking than robotic missions. After all a robot didn't, discover America, fly across the Atlantic, or planted its flag on the south pole. What makes us humans is our instinct to explore new frontiers beyond our doorsteps, robots although useful human tools aren't the same...
pheonix1012 - I meant Apollo 8, good for you for pointing that out, as said although Apollo 10 did circle the moon and make a final dry run, Apollo 8 was the riskier human mission because it was never done before.
I also read about VASIMR a year or so ago on this site. I was thrilled to see an alternative to chemical rockets being developed, but now (with not much being said about it at all) my hopes are diminishing. At the risk of stating the obvious, anything that would shorten the trip would be a huge boon to space travel!
ignorantia legis non excusat
If he does it, he gets get the title of 1st visitor to Mars in my opinion. I have no requirement if being the one to leave a spacesuit imprint in order to satisfy some archiac sense of exploratory propriety-the journey through the fantastic stretches of space to a new world never visited by anyone before provide all the excitement/credit/amazement we should ever need. The first missions to Mars in the 1950's were often conceived as flybys'-it simplified the mission requirements considerably. Leave landing to the ones intending to stay on and live there!
Land on Phobos (a Mars moon) instead and bring us some samples!
Phobos escape velocity is just 11 m/s, compare to 5000 m/s for Mars. Landing on Phobos reqired very few fuel and delivers almost as much fun as landing on Mars.
Good point- he ought to at least consider a trajectory that will bring hiim as close to Phobos as the fuel supply will allow!
This is the same moron who spent $20M to go to the ISS. With all of the problems we have here on earth why spend so much to do so little? That money would be better spent on technologies that help people rather than put another unnecessary fewer in Dennis Tito's cap. Ridiculous....
The Apollo lunar landings were a walk-in-the-park compared to a similar manned Mars mission. Besides the length of the mission and the problems of radiation that were noted, there is the much more difficult problem of launching the crew back from the surface of Mars. Launching the Apollo crew back from the lunar surface was relatively easy because the Moon has little gravity and is quite close by. But since Mars has far more gravity and is much further away, the size of the return vehicle required would be far greater.
Hope they use an ion shield, etc. Maybe send a robotic lander in advance to collect a soil sample for retrieval.
The possible technologies that could be discovered from space travel are infinite. We can continuously invent new technologies to improve things on Earth but we will always have issues with the environment, lack of fuels and a simple lack of resources. Mining in space would have all the positives without most of the negatives, it would still be dangerous but we would be destroying a rock in space rather than a beautiful mountain on Earth.
Not to mention the benefits of technology discovered will matriculate into daily life.
Last I heard on the VASIMR was that a small prototype was slated to be tested up near the ISS. As for the 39 day claim, there are a lot of moving parts that go into coming up with that number: the total mass of the spacecraft (that would include a very large, very powerful nuclear reactor - energy input into electric propulsion (EP) systems is the primary driver of thrust output), and the number/size of the VASIMR engines needed to use all that energy input, and the efficiency of the future iterations of a VASIMR engine to be used.
Basically the 39 day prediction is based on a lot of very arbitrary and optimistic numbers that don't jive well with actual capabilities. The 501 is a bit more realistic for a chemical system. More chem propellant would cut the time of flight but there are diminishing returns (you still have to accelerate the extra fuel) and the cost becomes astronomical to get more fuel from earth to space. Any delta V in excess of Earth's escape velocity is a cost vs time trade off, so in this case the 501 days is pretty reasonable.
If you want to see EP become something useful for space travel, then you should really push for high power low mass space capable nuclear reactors. Heat pipe reactors and (with) super critical CO2 Brayton Cycle power conversion systems (the part that turns the reactor heat to usable electricity ) both show a lot of promise in this area.
Why hasn't anyone asked this basic question: Since a manned Mars mission would cost billions of dollars, just how could a simple "millionaire" afford to pay for it?
@riff_raff I assume he would use an endeavor like planetary resources as an example, that's the smartest way to do it. Pool his money with that of a few like-minded millionaires to study feasibility, develop a plan, study technological requirements. When (IF) the scientists and engineers they hired for the preliminary work have a suitable 'blueprint' for the mission, they go out for investors. Thousands of millionaires, or perhaps some very wealthy, very adventurous corporations. With the help of those people they have much more money to hire machinists, more engineers, astronauts, etc. to actually do the mission. The toughest part of that, of course, is finding an investor model in which the meager (negative) return on investment for the foreseeable future is acceptable. A giant Coke bottle shaped spacecraft landing on Mars, astronauts decked out in suits with a custom-woven red and white outer layer and huge Coke logos on their backs, for $750 million dollars? Not impossible :)
In other words, his millions wouldn't fund the trip. At best, his millions would fund a mission outline and very very preliminary sketches of the hardware.
Incidentally, I'd like to add that the single greatest economic potential for Mars is as a base for asteroid mining. With the sheer amount of raw materials waiting to be harvested from asteroids, Mars would be amazingly profitable as a simple fueling/lodging/storage waypoint between asteroids and Earth's demand for metals. That's not nearly as far away as people think, hence the existence of endeavors like Planetary Resources.
Thank you! I guess that makes sense. I suppose I'll have to wait a bit longer for the Enterprise E from star trek. lol